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What Does The EPPP Mean For Sunderland?

EPPP gives Sunderland an outstanding chance of uncovering the next Jack Colback.
EPPP gives Sunderland an outstanding chance of uncovering the next Jack Colback.

The Elite Player Performance Plan, the boadroom-defined future of the game, is set to come into play this season.

Another youth redevelopment was put in place following England's crashing 2010 World Cup exit at the hands of Germany and as the new season approaches it is ready to be implemented.

There has been much criticism, especially from Football League clubs about the real danger of losing talented young players for a low fee or even nothing, but how will it affect Sunderland?

Fans were told to 'give it 10 years' when it came to the Academy of Light by Kees Zwamborn, its first director and fabled Ajax developer of talent, and since then Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback have shot off the production line and into the Premier League spotlight. Are the new changes just a shiny new name on old methods, or will it address the concerns that follow every major international tournament?

The creation of the Under-21 league is aimed to smooth the transition between youth team and first team football. The Under-18 league has also been tweaked; no longer are you allowed to play three players a year older than the Under-18 cut-off - bringing the competition in line with the FA Youth Cup.

The following is an extract from Neil Bath, Chelsea's Academy manager, on the new system. Much of it relates to Ryan Noble, not directly, but how loan spells designed to accelerate his development backfired. Under the new implementation age-grade teams will not disrupt the training regimes of the first team, as games are scheduled to take place between Friday and Monday, enabling the likes of Louis Laing, Billy Knott and Noble himself to train as part of the first team before playing against a decent standard side on the weekend.

A lot of talk is about just doing the same as in Spain where teams like the Barcelona B team play in the lower leagues, but England's lower league football is not like that. The Spanish league doesn't have big clubs like Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday that have huge crowds in the lower divisions.

So it was felt that we should create a new league, an Under-21 league, to almost encourage the clubs to think twice about sending players out on loan. We are not saying loans and senior football aren't an important part of development. Learning to play for three points and playing in stadiums are, but you can have bad loans - club's that take players to put them on the bench, or clubs where the football philosophy is very different to you, so getting the right balance was a big discussion point.

Having a new Under-21 league means a number of things can happen. The category one clubs can all play against each other. The reserve league was regional although you did get to play northern teams once a year. Now you get to play Man United and Man City as regularly as Arsenal and Tottenham and also the clubs have to enter it. So whereas in the past Tottenham haven't entered the reserve league, now we are all in this together with a need to improve the standard all together, for the benefit of the game.

By not having the Under-21s playing on a Wednesday for instance the boys won't miss opportunities to train with first team players.

The most significant change, from a Sunderland perspective, is the abolition of the '90 minute' rule. The previous ruling, which prevented a club from signing a player under 16 years of age unless it was located within 90 minutes of his home, restricted the club due to its location, but whilst its removal the club's geography issues may not be over at youth level - as a Category One club we will be competing for young players with the likes of both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Despite that, Sunderland is still an elite location, and so it has a greater chance than previously to attract high-quality youngsters to supplement its own.

The club will have a greater budget to work with (£2.325 million, compared to £969,000 for Category Two clubs) and a distinct advantage to players; C1 clubs can sign a player at four-years-old, whereas others must wait until he is nine.

The above gets into murky water ethically, but all is apparently considered fair following a World Cup exit at the hands of international rivals. The following is what SAFC would have to pay should any player from another Academy/Centre of Excellence join us following the implementation of the EPPP:

For each year spent in an Academy between the ages of 9 and 11 - £3,000

For each year spent in a Category 3 Academy between the ages of 12 and 16 - £12,500

For each year spent in a Category 2 Academy between the ages of 12 and 16: £25,000

For each year spent in a Category 1 Academy between the ages of 12 and 16: £40,000

Initially, any player joining Sunderland from another Academy/Centre of Excellence would cost a total of £169,000, with various add-ons and clauses should they blossom into Premier League, or even international, players. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that clubs can no longer restrict scouts from another club from watching its players - as Roy Keane reportedly did during the 2007/08 FA Youth Cup run that Sunderland's Under-18s went on. This leaves quite a sour taste, especially when you consider the pressures that could be put on someone so young. Signing someone at four is bad enough, but introducing them to an environment where clubs could potentially fight over him at that age?

Also, given that Sunderland - and near neighbours Middlesbrough - enjoy Academy One status despite not being considered one of the top clubs in the country, there is a danger of us becoming one of the better ‘farming stocks'. A young player could sign for Sunderland at four, receive Category One training for a number of years, and join Manchester United as his 10th birthday present; all of this a long, long way away before being able to determine whether he'll amount to anything in the game. It's fair to say that I trust Ged McNamee and his methods, which are providing significant dividends, but I am not sure I trust the system, especially in a country where money is almost judge and jury on all football matters. Undoubtedly, there will be instances where Sunderland benefits, that is still not to say it makes it right, however.

In conclusion, Sunderland being named as a Category One club is another accolade that can go alongside producing England international Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback in recent years. What the Academy has at the moment is a trust in its methods and, in Colback's case, in its individuals. Colback's breakthrough was the definition of patience; two loan spells, introducing him periodically, enabling him to acclimatise before he made his mark on the first team. The most important factor is that Sunderland is developing a track record of preparing players to flourish in the Premier League. Hopefully, that is not lost amongst all the redecorating.

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